Learning about other families' personal experiences with the aid process can help you navigate the challenges and questions you come across in your own experience.
Comparing student aid packages
Annie Delvetto's son Tommy received financial aid packages from ten different colleges. So when the Delvettos sat down to compare the awards, they quickly realized that they had to get organized. "You can't just look at the numbers and go from paper to paper," she says.
The Delvettos, who live in New Jersey, initially were impressed by the large package offered by a well-known private university in Massachusetts. "But people fail to take into consideration all the extra expenses that go along with college," says Delvetto. "Everyone seems to think that the amount of money in the college guide is what it's going to cost. They don't add up all the other little incidentals that come along."
Delvetto and her husband, Paul, went through the process with two other children a decade ago. But when it came time to apply for Tommy, they discovered that things had changed dramatically. "More forms to fill out, they ask you more questions, they ask for what your children have in their savings accounts." Realizing how critical it is to understand the questions on the student financial aid forms, the Delvettos hired a financial aid adviser.
When it came time to compare aid packages, they created a spreadsheet on their home computer with three types of columns: expenses (tuition, room and board, and transportation); aid (subsidized and unsubsidized loans, work-study, and scholarships); and unmet need.
Annie Delvetto has the following advice for parents:
- Get organized by making a binder for each school in which you're interested and collect important financial aid information.
- Visit each school's financial aid office.
- Write down your impressions about each school after each visit — "otherwise you will start mixing up who said what and how much he said."
Find schools willing to give student financial aid
When it comes to finding financial aid for college, you might think that Bob Reynolds has an advantage over most families. He's an accountant. It turns out, though, that the opposite was true. "I didn't know what to expect," he says of applying for aid for his stepdaughter. But it didn't take long before he learned "to forget the government unless you're at the poverty level, except for loans."
Reynolds's stepdaughter was open to both public and private schools. The final decision of where she would go would depend on the student aid packages she received. As an accountant, Reynolds has seen his share of families who take out large loans to put their kids through college. "But I didn't want her or me saddled with a lot of debt," he recalls.
The family knew that they would have a better chance at winning scholarship money from colleges that most people have never heard of. So they applied to four small schools in Massachusetts, including Regis College. Once acceptance letters arrived, Reynolds got in touch with the financial aid offices by phone to negotiate aid packages. "If the college wants you," advises Reynolds, "they'll find something for you."
He found the staff at Regis to be "very pleasant" in the three or four calls he placed. And because it was a small school, each time he dealt with the same two people, one of whom was the school's financial aid director. Ultimately, he and Regis negotiated "a very nice package," says Reynolds.
Reynolds is about to start the financial aid information process again with his son, a high school junior. What will he do differently this time? "I'm starting earlier, looking at potential colleges that meet his needs." Also, Reynolds will encourage his son to apply to more schools and to visit more colleges for face-to-face interviews.
"Find those schools that not everyone is applying to." There are hundreds of small colleges out there that families pass over because they aren't the most popular or prestigious. What people don't realize is that these schools are the ones that are willing to make some concessions so the cost of higher education is affordable to middle-class families.